A Flower in the Moonlight

Jurdes 17, 5681---“Now there’s a face I haven’t seen in five years,” Tora’Sor said. She was standing in a dimly lit hallway in the palace, not far from the room that housed Sushala’Mol. “I heard you eventually learned where to find the Seven Cities of Lajolaine after I left the expedition. Perhaps someday you can tell me about it.”

“I warned you about that garden,” Elendra’Tel replied sternly. “You should never have followed Purishi’Kan into the Underground.”

“Coming from you, I’m not sure what to think,” Tora’Sor said, teasing. “I learned upon my return that you were the only one to stand in my defense in front of the High Council that convened after you reported my loss.”

Elendra’Tel nodded. “Krista’Mil sailed off to her homeland with Rar, leaving me as the only witness. It’s easy to marginalize the testimony of a single witness when everyone on the High Council has her own idea of how she would act differently given the same situation. Sending news of your rescue three years later through secondhand sources didn’t help much to change any minds. Still, it is good to see you.”

The two women hugged briefly. It was an awkward reunion, formal, but friendly. After spending three weeks with Sushala’Mol, Tora’Sor suspected the Lunari, as rumored by the Great King, did not have a curse on the woman from Eranithon. Elendra’Tel’s job was to examine the woman, and determine the existence of any curses. If there were no curses, a third woman, a High Mistress in the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar, an old, crooked woman named Rarla’Nun, would focus her abilities on strengthening Sushala’Mol’s eyes until they could tolerate light. Rarla’Nun seemed intimidating to Tora’Sor, so she was thankful the old woman hadn’t been in the hallway right then, although she would be arriving at the room in a short bit. The old woman was blind, but claimed she could see with the power of her abilities. As such, she always walked without a guide or feeling around her with her cane. Tora’Sor wondered if the woman could see through walls, but dare not ask.

Tora’Sor took Elendra’Tel’s hand. “I’ve spent most of the past three weeks in complete darkness, so the light in this hallway seems bright to me. Let’s go inside the room, and I’ll introduce you to Sushala’Mol. She led Elendra’Tel to a room down the hallway, opened the door, and quickly went inside. She quickly used her non-visual senses to find the captive woman hidden in the darkened room. “There she is,” she announced, pushing Elendra’Tel in the right direction.

“I can’t see anything,” Elendra’Tel complained.

“I thought you didn’t need light to see the markings of the Lunari,” Tora’Sor said.

“I don’t,” Elendra’Tel replied, “but I don’t even know where I’m supposed to be looking.”

“In front of you,” Sushala’Mol said, startling Elendra’Tel.

Elendra’Tel reached forward until she felt Sushala’Mol’s arm. “I am Elendra’Tel. I trust you understand why I am here.”

“Tora’Sor told me that knowing light is not a curse for most people, and you want to see if I have the curse,” the woman replied.

Elendra’Tel nodded, not that it did any good in the darkened room. She couldn’t see the woman she was slowly turning in front of her. She hoped she was examining the entirety of the woman, but it was difficult when she couldn’t see anything. “I don’t see anything,” she eventually announced. “If there is a curse, it’s hidden, very small, or very faint. Should I summon in Rarla’Nun?”

“No,” Tora’Sor said quickly, hoping she did not give the impression she was afraid to meet the old woman. “Keep looking. Perhaps you missed something. When was the last time you tested your ability?”

“It is a curse to know light,” Sushala’Mol added. “There is nothing more painful.” Elendra’Tel huffed, and started to examine the woman again.

The door slammed open, flooding the room with light from the dim hallway. Elendra’Tel felt relieved to be able to see. Sushala’Mol cried out in pain, and tried to cover her eyes. Tora’Sor squinted. “There is no curse,” croaked the blind, old lady standing in the doorway. “For your fathers, perhaps, or your grandfathers, but not you. A curse never transfers to the next generation. You are fools to even consider such things.”

Tora’Sor’s eyes soon adjusted to the light. She wasn’t sure how to act in the presence of the High Mistress. The woman was probably the oldest Sisterhood operative, and certainly among the most legendary and awe-inspiring. She was the focus of rumors, tall tales, and speculation. “But the examination was ordered by the High Council,” Tora’Sor protested, not knowing how else to respond.

Rarla’Nun scowled, and took several steps into the room. The door slammed behind her, pushed shut by her powers rather than her hands. Tora’Sor no longer saw the woman, but she heard her shuffle around the room. “You are right to do as the High Council orders,” the woman said, “but if that was all everyone did, nothing would get done. Now tell me, Sushala’Mol, is it true you spent your entire life without light?”

The woman was still whimpering softly after the light from the door. “Yes,” she replied, sniffing.

“Then it will be hard and painful to strengthen your eyes,” Rarla’Nun decided. The old woman set her cane against the wall, walked over to Sushala’Mol, and took the woman’s hand. “Let’s have a seat, dear, and let me take a look at you.”

Tora’Sor could tell Sushala’Mol was growing confused by the old woman’s ability to move with ease in the darkened room while the other two Sisterhood operatives still had difficulty. Tora’Sor knew her way around the room after spending three weeks with Sushala’Mol, but Elendra’Tel could not help bumping into things. While Tora’Sor sat in a chair, Elendra’Tel bumped into a wall, and sat on the floor beside it. Rarla’Nun led Sushala’Mol to the bed, where they both sat down.

“You are different from them,” Sushala’Mol told the old lady. “You see in the dark like me.”

“No dear,” the Rarla’Nun said. “I could not see light or dark if I wanted to. I am blind; my eyes do not work at all.”

“Then how do you look at me as if you see me?” Sushala’Mol wondered.

The question left Tora’Sor inwardly amused and she actually snickered at the response. “Hush girl,” Rarla’Nun ordered Sushala’Mol. “Sit still so I can examine you.”

While they waited for Rarla’Nun’s diagnosis, Tora’Sor thought she heard Elendra’Tel trying to feel around for a chair. She went over, and helped the woman to her feet. “All the chairs are against the far wall,” she whispered. “Let me take you.” She helped Elendra’Tel find a chair, and then sat down again herself. “Now tell me of Akmetan,” she suggested quietly. “I read a story that you met someone interesting in those ruins. What did she have to discuss with you and Krista’Mil that took all day and night?”

“I believe you met her after your rescue, and several times following that,” Elendra’Tel replied. “How did you do that thing with the spoons?”

Tora’Sor laughed loudly, but then quieted herself when she heard Rarla’Nun sigh with frustration. “It was an extension of something I was taught long ago. If you need an object to...”

“Parlor tricks!” Rarla’Nun loudly interrupted, standing up and facing them. “You two talk of common parlor tricks as great accomplishments. Take a word of advice from me. If you want to stand out from the crowd, make it your lifelong ambition to do something truly remarkable. Learn to do the uncommon, the unexpected, the impossible, and then, perhaps, your actions will be noteworthy. Now I know you both have fame based on being in a story about exploring a strange land, but I want to see you two do something truly inspiring. Until then, hush, and let me finish.” She sat back down on the bed.

The two women sat quietly to let Rarla’Nun complete her examination of Sushala’Mol’s eyes, but it seemed only seconds later she announced completion. “I see no reason why you should have difficulty using your eyes,” she told Sushala’Mol. “All the parts are there, and they appear functional, so if you’re ready, for the challenge and the associated pain, we can start the process right now.”

“Why will it hurt?” Sushala’Mol asked.

“Unless they’re blind like me, too much light can hurt anyone’s eyes,” Rarla’Nun explained. “The sun is as bright to most people as the tiniest candle is to you. If you look too long at a light you cannot tolerate, it will damage the eyes or leave you blind forever. Even walking from a darkened room into a lit room can be painful while the eyes adjust. What I want to do is gradually expose your eyes to light, starting with the smallest amounts possible. I doubt you’ll ever be able to tolerate sunlight, but I believe moonlight is doable.”

“What is a moon?” Sushala’Mol wondered.

“Perhaps you’ll find out once your eyes adjust to more light,” Rarla’Nun said. “Tora’Sor, give us the smallest light you can make.”

Tora’Sor held out her hand as she did the first time she came into the room three weeks before, and let her abilities form the tiniest flicker of flame she could imagine. It was a tiny speck of brightness contrasting against the total darkness of the rest of the room, and barely illuminated Tora’Sor’s hand. Sushala’Mol whimpered.

“Don’t look at the flame,” Rarla’Nun told the woman. “Look at the wall. Look at your surroundings. Look away from the flame, and see how its light brightens the world around you. Squint your eyes if it’s still too bright for you.”

It took some time, but Sushala’Mol began to see her surroundings. She reached out to feel the wall, letting her fingers confirm what her eyes were seeing. She slowly looked around the room, taking in everything, being careful not to look toward the tiny flame. “Everything is different,” she finally decided, “but my eyes still hurt.”

“They will,” Rarla’Nun replied. “It isn’t bright enough in here for the others to see, but your eyes are accustomed to darkness, so this should be as day to you. Tora’Sor will maintain her flame for you today. Tomorrow I will send candles. Each day you will increase the brightness so your eyes can adjust.”

“Why help captive see?” the woman asked.

“You aren’t a captive,” Rarla’Nun answered, “except in the sense that you cannot tolerate the light necessary to leave this room. When your eyes improve, the Prince plans to sail for Eranithon, and take you home.” She turned to Tora’Sor and Elendra’Tel. “You two are going as well.”

“But home is dark,” Sushala’Mol said. “I don’t need to see light.”

Rarla’Nun turned back to face Sushala’Mol. “Sushala’Mol, you’ve been farther from home than anyone you grew up with. You’ve seen places they’ve never heard of. You’ve learned that knowing light is not a curse for you. When you see what you miss by staying in the dark, you will not remain in your cave for long. You will desire to explore, to leave your cave, to see the world around you. You will teach the others that they too can leave the dark if they take the time to adjust to the light.” She stood up, and walked to the door. “Now if you’ll excuse me, it is getting late. I am old, and need to rest. My work here is finished, but I will check your progress each day. Cover your eyes while the door is open.”

Sushala’Mol did as ordered, and covered her eyes. The door slammed open, and Rarla’Nun strode out, stopping only to take her cane from where she had left it propped against the wall.

Tora’Sor hurriedly passed the tiny flame to Elendra’Tel, and darted for the door. She stepped through the doorway just ahead of the slamming door. “High Mistress, I need to talk to you,” she quickly told the old woman. “Why am I going to Eranithon?”

The old woman turned, and seemed to look over Tora’Sor before responding. “Practice your battle skills,” she said. “You’re going to Eranithon and war. Tell me, when was the last time you looked a Dark Magician in the eye?”

“Six years ago,” Tora’Sor answered truthfully, squinting from the light. It was that long since she had led a team to capture and question a single Dark Magician in a bid to learn the secretive origins of the enemy. “What do the Dark Magicians have to do with Eranithon?”

“The land did not destroy itself,” Rarla’Nun replied. “You saw how the Lunari closed the opening at Razhinoch. Some Dark Magicians are capable of a similar power, but they are in far greater numbers than the Lunari. They destroyed Eranithon to prevent the second Great King Derkolo and Irata from gaining entrance to the Underground through any of the many openings once found in the caves of that land. Rumor now reaches Atalan of a fresh opening deep in one of the caves. There is a Dark Magician on Eranithon once again, and you are going to help defeat him and close that opening.”

Tora’Sor felt puzzled. The old woman knew more than she initially divulged. “I always heard no one knew what happened to the land, and the rumor I heard while with Josloy was that a dark cloud was involved. How do you know so much about that place?”

Rarla’Nun smirked, and rested both hands on her cane. “Tora’Sor, I am twice your age. I was at Eranithon to see the destruction. I saw the flash. I heard the Lunari curse the surviving inhabitants into the caves for failing their duty. However, one does not discuss punishments given by the Lunari. That is why no one claims to know what happened.”

“But I thought you were blind,” Tora’Sor said. “How did you see it happen?”

“Think back to your early years with the Sisterhood,” Rarla’Nun said. “How many blind Sisters helped in your training?”

“There were quite a few,” Tora’Sor admitted. “I thought it was because they weren’t fit to do any other tasks. I think most of them passed away years ago.”

The old woman nodded. “There were two hundred of us at Eranithon, and those who survived were blinded by the flash. Some ended up leaving the Sisterhood. Others spent the rest of their lives giving training or doing menial labor. I initially dedicated myself to trying to fix my eyes, but eventually learned a new way to see the world around me. I am now the only survivor I know from Eranithon who still lives.”

Tora’Sor thought about it for a moment. “I think that answers my first question. My second question is how fast do you think Sushala’Mol can improve?”

Rarla’Nun shrugged. “It’s up to Sushala’Mol. If she wants to strain her eyes, you could take her outside tonight, although you’d still need to block most of the light from her eyes, perhaps with a thin blindfold. I recommend caution, but it’s her decision. Let her know, and see what she thinks. The ships are ready to set sail the day she is ready. Was there anything else you wanted to ask?”

Tora’Sor nodded. “I’m actually curious about you,” she said. “How are you a High Mistress, but cannot sit on the High Council?”

Rarla’Nun grinned. “I did sit on the High Council, but that only lasted half a day. They didn’t like my suggestions, so they removed me from the High Council. However, they cannot remove my title.”

“What did you suggest?” Tora’Sor wondered.

“I suggested we learn the power that destroyed Eranithon, and then march to the Red Mountains,” the old woman answered. “It would defeat the Dark Magicians for good.”

“And you in the process,” Tora’Sor added.

“Yes, yes,” the old woman quickly agreed, “but sometimes I think such a blast is the only thing that would ever work on that enemy, even if no one on the High Council believes the sacrifice worthwhile.” She stood quietly for a moment, as if contemplating her suggestion once more. “There may yet be a way, but my days of suggestions are over.” She looked up at Tora’Sor’s face, and smiled. “To answer the question you fear to ask me, yes, I can see through walls.”

Tora’Sor felt embarrassed and surprised. “How did you know?”

“Everyone wonders about it, but few have the nerve to ask,” Rarla’Nun answered. “Perhaps one day you too can learn to see without your eyes.”

Tora’Sor nodded. “That is all I wanted to ask you. I will go tell Sushala’Mol what you said about the speed of her recovery.”

“It’s not a recovery, dear,” Rarla’Nun corrected her, turning to walk down the hall. “It’s learning to do something for the first time.”

“Yes, High Mistress,” Tora’Sor replied. A thousand thoughts flashed through her mind as she watched the old woman hobble down the hallway, and turn the corner. The world was changing, and the secret conflict at Eranithon was only the beginning. This was the shadow war, the conflict to undermine the enemy before the final battle. Tora’Sor now thought she understood what Rarla’Nun meant about doing something remarkable. The faster Sushala’Mol improved, the sooner they could sail for Eranithon, and the sooner they embarked, the greater the chance of success. Tora’Sor quickly ducked back into the darkened room. She knew what she needed to do.

“What was that all about?” Elendra’Tel asked her.

“Pack up your belongings,” Tora’Sor announced urgently. “We’re not staying here any longer. Sushala’Mol, put on your blindfold.”

While Tora’Sor stuffed her belongings into a bag, Elendra’Tel walked over to the door since she hadn’t even planned to stay the night. “What did the High Mistress say to put you into such a rush?” she asked.

Tora’Sor looked up from her packing. “Everyone who went into the caves because of the curse was already blind,” she explained. “Rarla’Nun was there when it all happened.” She paused, and turned toward Sushala’Mol. “The cargo hold of a ship can be almost as dark as this room. We can strengthen your eyes at sea.”

“That still doesn’t explain the rush,” Elendra’Tel decided.

Tora’Sor stood up, and picked up the bag with her belongings. “From the south he comes,” Tora’Sor quoted. “Take heed, lest love prevails.” She walked over to the door, and cracked it open. She peeked outside to see if anyone was carrying bright lights through the dim hallway.

“What does that mean?” Elendra’Tel asked her.

Tora’Sor glanced back at her. “You’ve never read the Book of Zarc? It means the Underground knows how the fortress of the Dark Magicians will be defeated, so they’re devising strategies to catch the world vulnerable after our victory. Eranithon was destroyed to keep us out of the Underground, but the entrances are being reopened, and no one living there is capable of stopping them.”

“We fight intruders,” Sushala’Mol said.

Tora’Sor shook her head. “You might try, but they have too much light for your eyes. Come; let’s take you into the palace garden. I hope you are ready to see moonlight.”

She opened the door the rest of the way, and stepped into the hallway with the other two women following behind. They turned six corners, and passed through three doors before reaching their destination. “Keep your eyes toward the ground,” Tora’Sor told Sushala’Mol as they stepped into the cool night air. She took the woman’s hand, and began to lead her off the path, and onto a patch of grass.

“What is this?” Sushala’Mol asked, hesitating to take another step. “It is soft. Will it hold me?”

“Look out from under your blindfold as much as you can tolerate,” Tora’Sor told her. “See the grass beneath your feet. Hear the breeze blowing through the bushes and trees around you. Feel the world beyond the cave where everything around you was rock. This is what the rest of us experience every day.”

Sushala’Mol bent down to touch the grass. “Do you eat it?”

“No” Tora’Sor laughed, “but there are some creatures that do eat grass.” She stepped back, and let the woman explore the garden. It was interesting to see Sushala’Mol explore her surroundings. Everything was new to her, so she was using all of her senses to explore. However, Tora’Sor stopped her after she licked a tree trunk for the third time, and told her to just walk around and look at things.

After a while, Sushala’Mol stopped beside a bush. “What is this?” she asked, pointing.

Tora’Sor walked over to her. “That’s a flower,” she said. “It’s probably the last of the season,” she added, looking around and not noticing any others.
“It’s beautiful,” Sushala’Mol decided.

“It’s yours,” someone said. Tora’Sor turned, and saw Prince Nomolo walking toward them from the palace. She and Elendra’Tel both bowed.

“My Prince,” Tora’Sor greeted him as she stood up. “I did not expect anyone else to be out here this late.”

Prince Nomolo grinned. “It’s the palace garden. Why shouldn’t I be out here? Besides, Hudena’Sor just put Solihas to bed, and needs to get some rest herself.” He turned toward Sushala’Mol. “You’ve come a long way from the captive brought before me last month. It is good to see you adjusting to light, even if you still need the blindfold.”

“Everything is very different,” Sushala’Mol told him, “but the light still hurts. Tora’Sor said I can strengthen my eyes at sea.”

“Is that so?” Prince Nomolo said. He looked at Tora’Sor. “When will she be ready to sail?”

“We can board right now,” Tora’Sor answered. “The sooner we reach our destination, the greater our chance of success. The cargo hold should be as dark as that room she’s been living in.”

Prince Nomolo nodded. “In that case, I want you and Sushala’Mol aboard my flagship by first light.” He looked at Elendra’Tel. “You have permission to board another ship if you fancy. The Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar will have a presence on every ship in the fleet. We sail due south in the morning.”

“How many ships are going?” Elendra’Tel asked.

“The Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar mustered three hundred of their members, almost the full extent of their presence in Tanarad, for this expedition,” the Prince answered, “and I am providing fifteen thousand soldiers. You can work the figures if you want.”

Tora’Sor’s eyes widened with surprise. “That is half of the Sisterhood of Jadela’Mar right there. You’re planning a full-scale war, not a skirmish with a remote outpost!”

“I intend to take back Eranithon,” Prince Nomolo announced to her. “The Underground might want to control that land, but I will drive them out of Eranithon, and block their opening forever.”

Tora’Sor inwardly grimaced at the announcement. It was obvious the Prince knew nothing of what actually happened to the land half a century earlier, and hadn’t considered the stormy seas this time of year. Nor did he know as much as she did of the Underground. After hearing Rarla’Nun’s tale of Eranithon, she wondered how many of them might be blind by the end of the next summer, or worse, dead. “We’ll be on the ship,” she said.

She bowed quickly, and looked at Sushala’Mol holding the flower under the moonlight. While everything else seemed to be taking a turn for the worse, Sushala’Mol was the only thing that seemed to be getting better.